After three years and more than 10 pop-ups, okonomiyaki master Yutaka “Matsu” Matsuda has finally settled into a permanent location on Smith Street.

Spread over two rooms and an outdoor courtyard, the 30-seat Papirica – an Ainu Japanese word meaning “good harvest year” – is simple and inviting. There’s indoor plants, second-hand furniture (including an old school desk), a blue floor and knick-knacks from Matsuda’s life, such as his Hokkaido bear sculpture.

Matsuda moved to Melbourne from Osaka a decade ago and, after a few stints in kitchens including Carolina, Milkwood and Manchester Press, he opened his Fitzroy Japanese homewares store, URA, where he worked everyday. It meant he missed socialising.

To remedy this he started inviting friends over for weekend pancakes – the regular kind – he’d serve out the back of the shop.

“It’s such a weekend food,” he says.

Then one day someone asked him why he wasn’t cooking Japanese pancakes. So he did. And his friends loved it. And in 2013 he launched his first okonomiyaki pop-up.

“Cooking [okonomiyaki] was just very natural,” he says.

Matsuda’s cooking education started at home. “Me and Mum, we were just two of us, so I often helped her to cook,” he says. “I am from a poor family in a poor area of Osaka. Okonomiyaki is a very common food there and my mum used to cook quite often at home because it’s easy and cheap and delicious. Okonomiyaki is the flavour of Mum’s kitchen.”

“It is easy to find a lot of Okonomiyaki recipes on internet, but I believe food culture is to be taken over by generations from your parents, grandparents,” he adds. “Teaching and showing you how to cook and learn how it’s supposed to taste.”

Papirica’s simple menu includes Osaka-style okonomiyaki in vegetarian, vegan or pork options, with mochi rice cakes, cheese and kimchi add-ons.

There’s also teriyaki chicken or nasu dengaku (vegan grilled-eggplant) sandwiches; a small breakfast menu with toast, scrambled eggs French toast with maple syrup, orange blossom and homemade jam. And matcha tiramisu for dessert. Drinks include hojicha (hot charcoal-roasted green tea) and mugicha (cold barley tea).

Although his okonomiyaki is traditional in form, Matsuda is creative with the ingredients. Instead of normal Japanese yams – which are hard to find in Melbourne – he uses okra and potato in his batter. “Makes it fluffy and sticks all of the ingredients together,” he says.

He prepares many ingredients from scratch, too, such as his replacement tenkasu (deep-fried flour puffs), made with dried soybeans deep-fried in sesame oil.

He also makes his own okonomiyaki sauce, which normally calls for ingredients such as ketchup, Worcestershire and MSG. His version is entirely natural.

“It’s important to use natural ingredients,” he says. “It tastes so much better.”

He smears and drizzles it on top of the pancake with his homemade mayonnaise, in abstract expressionist style. And, like any good okonomiyaki, it looks far too good to eat.

Papirica
22 Smith Street, Collingwood

Hours:
Wed to Sun 9am–3.30pm